Netflix Chief Again Defends Chappelle Special: ‘Content Doesn’t Directly Translate to Real-World Harm’

Ted Sarandos doubled down on his defense of airing Dave Chappelle's "The Closer," controversial for its anti-trans and homophobic remarks, in another memo to staff.
Dave Chappelle: The Closer. c. Mathieu Bitton
"Dave Chappelle: The Closer"
Mathieu Bitton

Netflix’s co-chief executive officer and chief content officer Ted Sarandos has once again defended the company’s decision to release Dave Chappelle’s controversial stand-up special “The Closer” on the platform. Chappelle has come under fire since the special’s release for making homophobic and anti-trans jokes. Organizations such as GLAAD and The National Black Justice Coalition condemned “The Closer” and urged Netflix to pull the special from its platform.

After an initial October 8 memo send to leadership brass, on Monday Sarandos sent out an all-staff memo (obtained by Variety) and the backlash was swift. A group of trans employees and allies is planning a staff walkout on Wednesday, October 20 in protest of Sarandos’ comments. The internet was quick to weigh in on Sarandos’ assertion that content “doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”

“We know that a number of you have been left angry, disappointed and hurt by our decision to put Dave Chappelle’s latest special on Netflix,” Sarandos wrote in the email obtained by Variety. “With ‘The Closer,’ we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real world harm (such as further marginalizing already marginalized groups, hate, violence etc.) Last year, we heard similar concerns about ‘365 Days’ and violence against women. While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”

“The strongest evidence to support this is that violence on screens has grown hugely over the last thirty years, especially with first party shooter games, and yet violent crime has fallen significantly in many countries. Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse — or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy — without it causing them to harm others,” Sarandos continued.

GLAAD, which rebuffed Sarandos’ initial claims that content “designed to incite hate or violence” is not allowed on the platform, told Variety that the LGBTQ watchdog organization was “founded 36 years ago because media representation has consequences for LGBTQ people. Authentic media stories about LGBTQ lives have been cited as directly responsible for increasing public support for issues like marriage equality. But film and TV have also been filled with stereotypes and misinformation about us for decades, leading to real world harm, especially for trans people and LGBTQ people of color. Ironically, the documentary ‘Disclosure’ on Netflix demonstrates this quite clearly.”

“What we object to is the harm that content like this does to the trans community (especially trans people of color) and VERY specifically Black trans women. People who look like me aren’t being killed. I’m a white woman,” wrote out trans Netflix employee Terra Field in a now-viral Twitter thread. Field was suspended by the company on October 11 allegedly on the grounds of attending a quarterly business review she was not invited to, but has since been reinstated at Netflix.

Netflix’ LGBTQ Twitter account Most posted on Thursday in response to the week’s upheaval, “To be clear: As the queer and trans people who run this account, you can imagine that the last couple of weeks have been hard. We can’t always control what goes on screen. What we can control is what we create here, and the POV we bring to internal conversations.”

Here’s what others had to say about Sarandos’ most recent remarks.

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